As a child I was very lonely and did not make too many friends; in fact I downright hated going out and the thought of party – any party whether my own or my parents filled me with foreboding. I absolutely hated the social gatherings that my parents organized or attended. I was bored out of my senses and the constant feeling of inferiority, did not help in my making friends with the very small number of kids from my age group. As it is, I was born very late to my parents and most of their friends had kids who were more than 10 odd years older to me, making me feel even odder. I think I was the only kid who ever went to dinner parties with her books….my only get away from being forced into companionship of much older or much dumber companions. Anyway, I grew up hating socializing and swearing to become a misanthrope and never troubling with company of anyone! That is what I though until I went away to college ……
And surprise surprise……I was suddenly a social butterfly, albeit an intellectual butterfly, who chose to go to only selective dance through the night parties, but hell, I had a choice to pick any I wanted and what’s more, I was always flooded with invitations! (I am not going to dwell on why this change happened!! I do not know and one day I have enough money, I will have a psychologist go over my case and post his diagnosis on the blog!)
Things did not change as I got myself a job and moved in with my best friend. Despite her being a more or less confirmed and declared recluse, our house over the weekend bursts with friends and going outs etc etc. She does not per se like so many people coming over, including Mr Soulmate (she does not approve of him….like I do not approve of her men and we both think we can do much better and deserve so much better and all the nine yards! Sound familiar?), but she has developed a certain amount of tolerance from being forced to attend the gatherings that I organize and has even deigned to become friends with some of my friends.
As for me….I love it! I love being surrounded by people, especially friends who make me laugh and are completely crazy! I love surprise visits even at 4:00 am in the morning when I have read for hours and am about to drop off and suddenly the bell rings and I open the door to see some of my closest friends giggling and screaming surprise!! I love breaking out the drinks and cooking impromptu Spanish omelets (I defy you to find Spanish omelets of the type I make anywhere!!!!) and instant noodles for food and then settling down to talk for hours broken only by interludes for more food.
It’s not like all my close friends have the same level of intellect or same literary interests. I have one set that can talk about books, music and Renoir for hours and they have nothing in common with the other set who embody the very core of corporate life style – dining out, spas etc; but the thing is that each of these sets are such fun in their own way that the two parts of me – the writer and project manager is equally entertained and refreshed by these gatherings! And at the end of the day, all the conversations moves in the same order regardless of the set – intelligent, argumentative, food breaks, witty, silly and then just funny…..a testimony to friendship; in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson “It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”
It’s my best friend who also doubles up as my flatmate’s birthday next week. Next week is also another friend’s birthday as well as another colleague’s whom-I-don’t-like- but-have-to like-for-business-reasons. So what all this translates into is a weekend of shopping for appropriate gifts. Now here’s the thing – I do not like shopping! I think I am one of those abnormal girls who really see’s shopping as a waste of time and does not indulge in it unless her clothes have turned to tatters or the house is falling apart and needs new furnishings! I abhor shopping; the thought of it makes me want to cuddle further in my bed and disappear. It brings back all thetraumatic memories of my childhood where I had to follow my mother around in the malls while she shopped and I sulked because I wanted to buy a book and sit in the ice cream parlour reading it while eating through a double Sunday! Thus with such an amazing baggage I abhor birthday/marriage shopping even more.
I think gift cards are the way to go, but several people have told me that personalized gift buying is more kind and demonstrates you cherish the person more than a cold gift card. Now I do not see what’s wrong with a gift card- give me one and I will spend it in a jiffy in a bookshop. I would much rather prefer it, than have people who have no idea which author I like or do not like gifting me something I really detest (Like Ms Meyer) or something I have purchased centuries ago, but they want to gift it to me because they have recently seen the movie and think it’s a new book (Like John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy- why cannot they Google the publication year and save everybody the trouble is beyond me!) I know it’s the thought that counts and I do appreciate the gesture that this non reading population makes in going to a shop and hunting for stuff which they have no idea about but think I will like, but really I do not need 4 copies of Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul just because he won the nobel prize and I said I like his work at some gathering!
Anyhow, the problem is not only with this non reading population that wants to gift me something; the problem also is what I gift to this non reading population. My flatmate is easy – I gift her some Kinglsey Amis and Terry Pratchet and she is as happy as she can get. My friend is also easy – I will buy her Mircea Eliade’s Bengal Nights and I know she will be one contended kitten. But the problem arises for the third one, the-colleague- whom-I-don’t-like- but-have-to like-for-business-reasons. And it’s not about him but all those upmarket people with scintillating lives and vacations in France with their Gucci/Prada bags and what nots – what to gift them? My biggest strength in the shopping arena is out of the window – they do not read and I don’t want to give a Salman Rushdie that becomes a decorative piece in their drawing room shelf. I am not sure what Perfume; oops sorry I believe its eau de cologne, to give them. Like my book reading, they might already have something which I choose or worse horror horror for them, the product I bought is too downmarket. I must add a note about gifts of music –even if they do like music, it will be techno or trance or something where I will be completely out of my depth – which is very much western classical and Jazz and of course I will buy something they will can download or do not like. I have tried changing tactics and buying them business utility products like a leather laptop bag only to have found out later that they have already have a designer bag and mine has been designated to the back of the attic filled with some old family papers which no one cares about. It’s the same with crockeries. I buy a dinner set only to realize that the couple already has 7 of them of which three of them are real bone china. I am bad at buying clothes – the shirts I buy are either too large or have too many check patterns for that person to wear. Most of these people are not close enough for me to splurge on a watch or a piece of jewellery (even if they were close enough- my budget does not permit me to buy a watch for myself, let alone gifting one!…remember I am quintessential struggling writer here) One cannot gift shoes, and pens seem to be too much of a trifle in today’s days of computers. Flowers are very temporary as are food items like cakes; besides they are more of an addendum gift but hardly the main course if you know what I mean. And though Ralph Waldo Emerson proclaims that “The greatest gift is a portion of thyself”, I am very confident that my friends and acquaintances do not want a portion of me (for many of them knowing me even for a limited period of time with all my quirks and weirdisims might is in itself a challenge) and I definitely do not want to part with any part of myself away from me for them!
So I am stuck….what does one gift a person who has practically everything and is not quite into cultural and what I feel eminently more giftable interests like reading or music (my kind). So I am reverting back to the good old gift card – buy it, fill it, gift it and forget about it. I cannot personalize the gift card, but atleast I know the person I am picking it up for will end up using it for something he or she likes or wants instead of me giving them something they do not like or want!!!